My grandma and I traveled to Loma Linda last Wednesday for an appointment with a doctor for proton therapy. Plan: Arrive on Wed, appointment on Thurs, fly home Fri. Check. Check. Check. But so much happened in between those accomplished goals. Sleep deprivement, for one. (Is that a word, Amanda?) But mostly connections. Connections with people, both old and new. I want to share about a new one.
Flying from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, Grandma and I were seated separately. I thought I'd ask for us to sit together, but once we loaded on, I decided, "Nah, let's just see who we sit by." I, of course, was sitting in the middle seat since we got our tickets so last minute. Window seat was empty and the aisle seat was held by another woman. As I watched the passengers walking by, I saw a solider. An older man, grey hair, glasses, dressed in his green fatigues. "Lord, help him sit by me," I prayed. Whoa! Wait a minute. I never pray to have someone sit by me. Especially a six foot plus-something guy when I'm sitting in the middle. Where did that prayer come from?
The soldier's seat was in the same row, but across the aisle-a middle seat as well. As he was stowing his pack above the seats, the lady sitting next to me told him that he could have her seat, because his "legs were longer." So there he was. The man I prayed would sit next to me, was sitting next to me.
We quickly introduced ourselves, and I immediately liked Rick. His eyes were kind and warm, and his smile contagious. Our third seat mate came soon after, Dave, also an Army Ranger dressed in plain clothes, and a helicopter pilot to boot. I found myself between these two, listening to military jargon, feeling a bit lost, and wondering if this is how my friends feel when I talk nursing with my fellow RNs. I asked them a few questions and they readily included me in the conversation, throwing in explanations so I wasn't completely lost. They swapped "jump" stories, (parachute jumps) Ranger boot camp stories, and different kinds of planes/helicopters they'd been on. I told them I dated a pilot once, but never jumped. (Man, it's impossible to "One-Up" those guys.) Both were headed out to be with their families. Rick was returning from Afghanistan just for a short leave. Rick shared that he was visiting his elderly mother and wasn't concerned that he was already on his sixth day of leave, just trying to get home. He was just glad to be on leave.
The three of us talked about pastimes, our jobs, and movies we loved. And can you believe it? They both like John Wayne! They even quoted some of his movies!
We also shared what was on our bucket list. This was the point of the conversation that it became clear that Jesus was important to me. Rick shared that he was reading the Bible now, was raised Catholic, and was now just trying to live by what the Bible taught. We talked a bit about world religions and how Christianity is different. It's not about steps to Nirvana, but about accepting a gift. The gift of Grace.
Four and half hours we spent just talking, almost non-stop. As the plane started descending, Rick said, "This just wasn't long enough." I agreed. I had never made friends that quickly, especially in a plane! We exchanged e-mails, and even took a picture.
(left to right: Rick, me, Dave)
Once we landed, the announcement was made to let the soldiers get off the plane first. Rick's response was, "I guess that mean's I can't get off with you guys....I'll wait for you guys inside, because my plane doesn't leave for a while."
Dave helped haul Grandma's luggage and I helped Grandma and held my luggage up into the airport. I hugged Dave good-bye and wished him a Merry Christmas. I turned to find Rick to wish him the same. The porter guy had already put Grandma in a wheelchair and was wheeling her away. So I quickly threw my arms around this giant man and told him thank you for what he does, and to stay in touch. He promised he would. As I jogged to catch up with my Grandma, I wondered how and why I felt such a deep connection with this man.
Arriving at our gate with time to spare, I went in search of some sustenance for us. I got in a line and Rick was in front of me! His gate was right next to ours. What are the chances! Sandwiches in hand, I introduced him to Grandma and he sat down and talked with us. He ended up leaving to visit a friend from Salt Lake and we watched his bag for him.
Now, a little more background. While we were on the plane, a thought popped into my head, "What about my Bible?" So I took my old bulletins and 3x5 note cards out and thought, "Alright God. If you want this to happen. Make it an opportune moment. This is not my thing. I don't pray for strangers to sit by me, And i don't give away my favorite travel Bible that I've had forever." With all the hustling and hubbub, I hadn't given it to him. But with him gone, I thought about it again. I wrote a note to him and put it in the front.
He came back as we needed to board. Grandma and I said good-bye. After I hugged him again, I handed my Bible to him with a "Merry Christmas." He asked what it was. (It's a real small silver metal cover, so it looks pretty different." I told him it was my travel Bible and now it could travel with him, if he wanted. He gave me another hug with a heartfelt thank you that reached his eyes, or at least that's how it felt.
As Grandma and I boarded the plane, I knew why I had been the one to go to Loma Linda. Because I was suppose to meet Rick. A stranger. A ranger. Now, my friend.